114, No. 205
Attitude toward world is driving
Aesthetic Realism teaches the danger of contempt
By LYNETTE ABEL
SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALD
I was affected to read online in The Sun Herald the article by Vivian
Austin, "Drivers need to soothe their anger before hitting the road," in
which she reports on the increasing "road rage" in our country. She quotes
Joe Gazzo of the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol describing what happens
on the interstate:
(People) yell at each other, bump each other's cars, throw things
out the window at another vehicle; they display a gun.
While the consequences of this anger — which includes many of us
who consider ourselves nice people — is always unfortunate, it is also
It was alarming to read that deaths from traffic accidents are
on the rise in America. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration, "Two-thirds of the deaths were related to aggressive drivers
who weaved through traffic, tailgated and caused other havoc on the road."
While I hope the public service announcements of the AAA encourage drivers
to have more courtesy, men and women need to understand the reason for
the anger on our highways so that something will really change.
Years ago, after getting my driver's license, I remember feeling powerful
as I drove my father's car, arrogantly cutting in and out of traffic, impatiently
stepping on the gas to leave those "slow" people in the dust. I am sure
this describes how many drivers feel. But the thrill I was having was dangerous;
it was the thrill of contempt.
Eli Siegel, poet, historian, and the founder of Aesthetic Realism, defined
contempt as "a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not
(one)self." Contempt, Siegel showed, is the most hurtful thing in us, the
cause of all unkindness and, on a large scale, is the cause of racism and
Every person has an attitude toward the whole world that is with us
in every situation. As we sit across the breakfast table from a spouse,
stand in a grocery checkout line or drive a car we are either trying to
know and respect people and things or we are having contempt.
From "The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known," words by Ellen Reiss
can literally save lives:
We need to know, when we get into the driver's seat, that we have
already had a tendency to feel this world itself is something we should
drive, and to be angry we haven't been able to run and manage it to suit
us. As car doors are opened and engines are turned on, millions of people,
including well-behaved people, feel deeply, "Now some power is in my hands.
This world that confuses me and seems so often to thwart and stop me, I
can literally ride over now. ... I'm conquering the world, I've beaten
it out.". . .
On highways and city streets, drivers are cutting off other drivers and
yelling things at someone which they would not think of saying if they
saw that person in their office or even in a store. . . . This is because
other drivers, pedestrians, traffic lights, speed limits, all stand for
the world, which a person, during the nondriving hours, does not
like; which he does not see as worthy of his thought, which he feels should
give him his way and which so often does not.
. . .
The only way to stop the bad temper on American roads — and the thousands
of terrible accidents — is for people to like the world.
To like the world, to want to know and see all the meaning and value in
it — this, Aesthetic Realism explains, is what we were born for!
Reiss, in sentences I love, describes the experience of driving with
The feeling that there is a deep friendliness between themselves and
earth as they travel upon it; the feeling that a structure — an automobile
— made by other people is assisting themselves, adding to themselves; that
they are experiencing reality as rest and motion at the same time and this
oneness of rest and motion seems beautiful . . . .
I want people to know, in Biloxi and in cities throughout our great country,
the education that Aesthetic Realism is — education that is comprehensive,
scientific and kind. When this happens, people will be happier, and an
important result will be that our roads will definitely be safer!
Lynette Abel lives in New York City and is an
Aesthetic Realism associate. Aesthetic Realism is taught at the Aesthetic
Realism Foundation, a not-for-profit educational foundation, 141 Greene
Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-777-4490.